Riyadh: Saudi Arabia on Thursday said that it will host its first Formula One Grand Prix for the first time next year with the Red Sea city of Jeddah set to host a night race.
“Hosting this event is part of the ‘Vision 2030’ project, with the support of our leadership and especially His Highness the Crown Prince,” Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki said, referring to the kingdom’s transformation plan.
“We hope to overcome this pandemic and that people will be able to attend, but things aren’t clear yet in this regard,” Prince Abdulaziz told a press conference.
Formula One has been under the spotlight over staging a race in Bahrain and the addition of Saudi Arabia might escalate scrutiny from human rights watchers.
Saudi Arabia, along with rival Qatar, is also competing to host the 2030 Asian Games.
Critics say that in a country where two-thirds of the population is under 30, the sporting drive is aimed at blunting public frustration over economic downturn and soaring youth unemployment.
“Saudi Arabia has worked hard at ‘sportswashing’ its reputation — trying to use the glamour of sport as a public relations tool to improve its international image,” Amnesty International said earlier this year.
Under de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” master plan, Saudi Arabia is aiming to clean up their image of rights abuses and export of hardline technology.